Crit* Before and After Olmeca Altos

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Distilled from 100% blue agave harvested from the Los Altos region of Jalisco, western Mexico using Jimador techniques passed between generations, Olmeca Altos is a premium tequila - owned and distributed by Pernod Ricard - that utilises a 500 year-old Tahona production process described by the brand as one that favours ‘authenticity over efficiency’. 

This month Olmeca launched a new Altos packaging solution created by Coley Porter Bell that steers the product away from the heavy pattern detail and Mesoamerican script of the previous design in favour of a simplicity and subtly that mixes craft, tradition and its imported nature across a graphic and proprietary structural design that hints at a more recent rather than ancient sense of authenticity and heritage.

“Coley Porter Bell has created new designs and a cool, authentic new positioning for Pernod Ricard’s premium tequila Olmeca Altos to help it to operate as more of a standalone brand. The new bottles were launched in the US this month and are being rolled out to other markets round the world.

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The brief was to distinguish Olmeca Altos from the rest of the Olmeca range by creating an appealing personality for the brand, while making the bottle easier for bartenders to handle.

The original Altos bottle  designed by CPB in 2010 was created as a  sub brand of Olmeca and had a close visual relationship to the parent brand. Since its launch Altos has been developing a loyal following so the time is now right for it to have more of a distinct personality.

The new positioning is aimed at attracting sophisticated creative young urban drinkers. The design itself is deliberately minimal, featuring clear hammered glass with the branding embossed onto the glass itself.

Altos needed to play up its authenticity whilst also highlighting the taste of the product, making drinking Altos more about enjoyment and discernment than shooters and partying, “ explained CPB creative director Stuart Humm.

“The target market is notoriously unresponsive to marketing, so rather than the design shouting at them we wanted consumers to feel that they have discovered it themselves. As a result it’s deliberately understated and dressed down.”

- Coley Porter Bell

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The previous design, borrowing and expanding on the cues established by the brand’s primary product, had a distinctive Olmec influenced solution that mixed raised Mesoamerican characters and ‘carved’ pattern work with a rough stone-style surface finish. A flowering neck and unusual spherical, carved wood lid added further craft detail while an embossed foil label treatment delivered a conventional and now saturated premium aesthetic.

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In contrast the new design looses almost all of the brand’s Olmec influenced design cues but retains its weighty four sided structure. The rough stone-like surface finish of the original design has been replaced with a softer and more contemporary aesthetic of hammered glass which manages to draw together both the careful cuts of a millstone craftsman - reflective of the tequila’s production - and the more recent qualities of figured plate glass - delivering a sense of heritage that is perhaps a little more antique than ancient. Like the varying wall thickness of the bottle the raised, uppercase and tall sans serif have some slight and intentional imperfections that neatly age a contemporary typographical choice.

A conventional but appropriately restrained dark wood-turned and polished cylindrical lid replaces a superfluous spherical choice while retaining the crafted and earthy communicative values which is also carried through to what looks like a woven material texture of the neck label. 

The tight line work, watermark, light illustration, silver and gold spot colours of the label have an official document-like sensibility that implies an imported authenticity and sense of provenance while the hand-finished and limited edition qualities of the batch number and script suggests an inspected and signed-off process that confirms its premium proposition.

It is a smart juxtaposition of certified contemporary quality and traditional craft cues which feels subtle and indirect, more associative and instinctual, less reliant on a distant culture and far more authentic in its presentation of experience built over a perceptable and not ancient period.

Opinion by Richard Baird - Twitter @richbaird